Humanitarian Services Is There When You Need It

In Community, Local

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
For half a century, Cobourg’s chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Rebekahs have been offering a service you might not spare a second thought for unless you really needed it – and then, boy are you grateful!

This particular service club maintains a massive inventory of wheelchairs, canes, crutches, walkers and other assistive devices that make up their equipment-loan cupboard that is open to anyone who needs it at no charge.

Should you ask, the Odd Fellows got their name when they first organized back in 18th-century England, when there were the very rich and the very poor and – well, that’s about it. And anyone who went out of his way to help his poor brethren was considered an odd fellow.

The Cobourg chapter will celebrate its 150th anniversary next year, and their Humanitarian Services work with the equipment loans has been going on for at least half a century.

If you drive past their headquarters (the Cobourg Memorial Temple at 412 Victoria St.) on a Tuesday or Thursday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., you’ll notice several various assistive devices (a walker, a wheelchair, maybe a toilet chair) sitting on the grass at the entrance to their parking lot. It’s a visual reminder that the service is open for business.

They used to just offer the service upon request, responding to calls when they came in (with Jack Scott in charge of that). Since they began running things in a more visible and business-like way two or three years ago, they find they are helping far more people.

Simply put, this is the free loan of assistive equipment (most often a walker or wheelchair, most often for those undergoing knee and hip replacements) to anyone who needs it for as long as it is needed – just come in (or send a loved one on your behalf) and talk to an Odd Fellow.

If a loved one is getting older and could use a shower chair for increased safety, they’re there. If you break a leg and need a cane for a few weeks, take your pick.

It’s always a bonus when they find someone wants to show his or her appreciation with a donation. It’s much appreciated, and it goes right back into buying more equipment.

They also get offered used equipment for which a family has no further use – again, much appreciated.

And then once in a while, someone is impressed with this work and inspired to join the Odd Fellows – like William Huras, whose father-in-law needed a walker some years back.

“I met these guys and thought this could be fun,” he recalled, taking a break from working the receipt book that records each loan.

Tom Robinson states with confidence that they helped 600 people last year, because they used up 12 full receipt books – the kind with 50 receipts in each, using one up pretty well each month.

\In fact, Huras confirmed, they are number-one with this service of all Ontario Odd Fellow chapters.

This is not their only contribution to the community, Robinson noted. They also support scholarships at the local high schools and the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas drive. But Humanitarian Services is where a significant portion of their fundraising goes.

Each Tuesday and Thursday, three or four Odd Fellows from a list of about 20 who are available show up to greet their visitors, help them pick out what is needed and fill out a receipt.

The Rebekahs are also an integral part of the service, with Gwen Barron and Nancy Norman actively involved as (respectively) chair and secretary-treasurer of the Humanitarian Services Committee.

The work of volunteer Maura McGeachy has also been invaluable – she’s taken over the follow-up duties, contacting people who have had an item for a long time to make sure it’s still needed (and otherwise arrange for its return).

And behind the scenes, the volunteers who do the fundraising (like long-time Bingo secretary-treasurer Don Sedgwick) and help spread awareness through floats in the Canada Day and Santa Claus Parades also deserve a lot of credit.

Robinson cannot say enough about the wonderful community support. When a thrift store (like Habitat For Humanity’s ReStore) comes into a walker or wheelchair, they pass it along. When Northumberland Hills Hospital updates its inventory of wheelchairs or other devices, Humanitarian Services gets the old ones. And Canadian Tire has offered a significant discount on wheelchair purchases.

The growth of the service can be traced in the sheer numbers of walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, canes, toilet chairs, transfer chairs, bed rails and other devices they offer.

They used to be able to store their inventory in the Cobourg Memorial Temple basement. Eventually, it overflowed into the trailer they purchased and kept parked in the northeast corner of their parking lot.

Eventually, again, they needed more storage space, so they purchased an old U Haul van. When it was no longer worth repairing, they kept the trailer and scrapped the vehicle. It took a crane, but that trailer is now permanently set down in the parking lot’s northwest corner. And what they made on the scrap metal from the vehicle part helped cover that cost.

It’s a canny group about making the most of their opportunities – accepting donated equipment, performing small repairs, actively fundraising to keep the service thriving for those who need it most. And many of their open-for-business days find people stopping in to show their support with a cash donation.

“Donations aren’t necessary, but they are appreciated,” Scott said.

Even donations of small amounts add up and make a difference, he has found.

“People really appreciate what we do, and we appreciate what they give us.”

If Humanitarian Services could make a difference for you or a loved one, stop in on a Tuesday or Thursday and say hello.

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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